The Cambridge University Fashion Show was an artistic triumph, but an access disaster

Image credit: Vincent Hasselbach

First up, some truths universally acknowledged, because they supposedly make for good openers: charity, and the act of raising money for charity, is a good thing.

Fashion – as a type of art – is a good thing. Supporting and promoting the work of student fashion designers, is a good thing.

An extraordinary amount of hard work went into putting on the Cambridge University Charity Fashion Show, which looks set to have raised around £10,000 for (you guessed it) charity.

Another truth universally acknowledged: The coverage of the event in The Daily Mail and The Sun was sexist, pervy, and, to use the de rigeur term, basic. Now here comes the more complicated part. What impression of Cambridge – of its students, and of the University as a whole – will the thousands of potential Cambridge applicants reading these articles have?

While we can safely say that the majority of them will hopefully be intelligent enough to see through the sexist veneer, and realise the event wasn’t primarily about naked flesh, it’s likely that responses will break down into three groups.

First comes the boy in the private school in Berkshire, or Kent, or one of those other counties that seems to yearn to rhyme with some insult or other, who probably thinks that the whole thing is ‘top bant’ and that the event would be a ‘right laugh’ and a ‘chance to crack out some champers’.

Then there’s the student at the Tatler-rated North London state school, whose parents own a property worth upwards of £1m, and who thinks the show looks ‘really hip’ and a lot like the ones that mummy takes me to, that she reads about in The Guardian.

It’s the third reaction that’s key: that of just about everyone else. It’s almost as if the people behind CUCFS have come up with the perfect formula to hit on the two key things that exemplify the way the media love to portray Cambridge: its eliteness, aloofness, intellectual and cultural superiority, and its tendency to be populated by posh champagne-quaffing black-tie-donning toffs. Or people who look a great deal like them in pictures.

The vast majority of people (myself partly included) will have looked at the pictures coming out of the fashion show and seen a load of pretentious people wearing a load of pretentious clothes in a room full of pretentious people drinking pretentious champagne and wearing pretentious black tie. And that’s a problem.

We’ve got gowns. We’ve got old buildings. We’ve got stupidly regular candlelit dinners. We’ve got May Balls. We’ve got abhorrent drinking societies.

What I fail to understand is why CUCFS have shown such a crippling lack of self-awareness as to give off the impression that we need more opportunities to shout to the tabloid press: “Hey, you guys! Come and take pictures of this thing we’re doing that definitely won’t put anyone off applying and is definitely a 100% fair, and balanced representation of what people at Cambridge are really like!” 

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